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In brief: Are you excited about Avatar: The Way of Water, the upcoming sequel to 2009's Avatar? Director James Cameron hopes so, given that it needs to become one of the top four highest-grossing movies of all time just to break even.
Avatar: The Way of Water will arrive with plenty of expectations. The first entry in the series remains the most successful movie of all time, having made $2.9 billion at the box office from its original release and subsequent re-releases. The sequel has a reported production budget somewhere in the $250 million range. Cameron has never said an exact figure, though he did tell GQ that it was "very f***ing [expensive]."
Cameron also revealed he told Disney and 20th Century Studios that the sequel represented "the worst business case in movie history." The director believes "you have to be the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history. That's your threshold. That's your break even."
Sitting behind Avatar on the list of top-grossing movies (unadjusted for inflation) worldwide is Disney's Avengers: Endgame in second position with $2.7 million. Cameron's Titanic is third with $2.1 billion, followed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($2.07 billion), then Avengers: Infinity War ($2.05 billion)—the five movies are the only ones ever to cross the $2 billion milestone.
It'll be interesting to see how well The Way of Water performs, given that many people rushed to see the original based solely on the then-revolutionary 3D viewing experience it offered at the time—an estimated 72% of Avatar's takings came from 3D screens.
The Way of Water, also in 3D, utilizes several cutting-edge filmmaking technologies, including new cameras for underwater shooting, AIs, and algorithms, which should make it a visually impressive movie.
Cinema attendance has been down since the start of the pandemic—Cineworld, the world's second-largest movie theatre operator behind AMC Entertainment, filed for bankruptcy in September. But it's not impossible for a new movie to generate more than $2 billion; Spider-Man: No Way Home came very close with its $1.9 billion.
Cameron plans on making three more Avatars after Way of Water. Expect all of them to have equally large budgets.